It was always underneath, a deep sorrow, but juxtaposed next to a great excitement and joy; polarity seems to exist in all places. I thought everyone bled like me, aching through the night, waiting for the first light of day. There was a yearning for an ineffable thing. When I would wake in the morning to light pouring through the edges of the shades, what joy! I had made it through another night.
Sisyphus and I understand each other.
What thing was I doing wrong that brought on that indescribable ache? Ack, I could not put my finger on it but it sure put its finger on me. I think back now to a host of life decisions I made in attempts to outwit it – instead of going into it I ran from it, assuming it was a spot on my soul.
Physical pain is more acceptable than darkness and with enough darkness, the pain finds its way to the flesh anyway.
Over the years my doctor and I became close. Even though his schedule was forever full, he would fit me in. Sometimes I think he saw in me my sadness.
“I think you are depressed,” Dr. G would say now and again, “but I’m going to run the test anyway because I believe you.” I often cried in his office, pre-empting some visits with a warning: “Dr. G, life is trying to kick me off the team but I’m persisting! Still, I feel like shit. I’m just letting you know that it’s probably stress but can you check?” And he always did and something was often wrong. Of course it was, as that ache found its way into the cells.
Burdens get too heavy to carry, even for the martyrs in the group. It is there, at that limit, when all colors dissolve and the world becomes grey – the dreaded apathy. What is a person to do?
It was Saturday, May 14 2016 at 2:54am when I emailed this to an old friend:
I don't know if this will get to you. I'm not sure where you are.
Life seems to make circles. We go round and round, but each time the colors fill in just a bit more. I always loved you friend. I hope you are well and that your circles are filling in.
You've been on my mind recently. Not sure why. I hope you are still digging deep.
I remember the night I wrote it. Joy was so far from memory that it was all I could do to turn on the smile for the world, to avoid the pitying question of “Are you okay?” All the things I had tried to outwit the pain were ending so I wrinkled my brow and tried to come up with a lifeline, somebody who would understand. It had been more than 10 years since we had talked but he was my connection to the dirt, my memory of how it felt to be real. In the morning:
Hey Beautiful Carrie,
Thanks for the kind words.
I’m here in Austin. Divorced and alone, but I’m always making some kind of art.
My daughter is 10 years old now and she’s the only thing I live for.
Hope you are doing well. We always had a connection
From the corners of our eyes.
I like the analogy of the colors filling in, but I must admit my colors bloomed early. I’m comfortably working with a very limited palette.
Ah, there it was: the dirt, the real. It may not seem like much to you but it was a sign to go into the unknown - to make some kind of art of my life, no matter how many colors I had in my bag. A limited palette would do.
What comes next is too much to write here but the book of my life was written by somebody else until May 14, 2016 at 2:54 in the morning. That is when I grabbed the pen and he handed me the blank pages.
Someone asked me recently about the pain. What was causing your pain? I could point to specific events, say them out loud, but there was something wrong with that explanation, a shallowness, a critical piece missing. The pain was not caused by anyone or anything I could put my finger on though I tried (apologies to ex-boyfriends and ex-husband). Instead, the pain was from not living an authentic life, from not living into who I am supposed to be. In that place everything eventually loses its color.
When I told my people that I was leaving my career, selling my house, and moving from LA to Austin most shook their heads in disbelief and judgment. “Why in the world would you leave Los Angeles to move to Texas?” After all, it was the place where I grew up and it was true that I felt a blood connection to Downtown LA, Santa Ana winds, nights in the Hollywood Hills, and my favorite perch on a bluff over the ocean at Point Dume.
I could not provide a convincing answer. My true answer was, “Because I know that if I stay where I am, it will kill me.” And anyway, I didn’t have a solid plan. I had one sketched out on paper in case someone needed proof that I had given this thought but it was just for show. I had not given it thought. I had given it heart instead. My reason for leaving was vague but had something to do with love for myself and this precious life of mine.
Before leaving, I had a conversation with my adult son and said to him, “There have been two moments in my life when I knew I was making the right decision: the first was when I decided to keep you and the second is this moment.” The interesting thing is that these are the two riskiest decisions I have made in my life – decisions with no clear outcome, no Excel sheets, no mindmaps, no ledgers, no plans to quell the shaking heads and sideways glances, and nobody waiting on the other side to usher me in.
I have been intrigued lately by the resurgence of Viktor Frankl and his book Man’s Search for Meaning. Is it just me or is there a new fascination with Frankl and also Joseph Campbell’s writings about the Hero’s Journey?
I think it is because we know, and the knowing is becoming louder. I think that there is sorrow at the calling that we are not answering. When we know enough to hear the call but not enough to make the decision, that is when comfort, apathy, and terror keep us there in the place where everything turns grey. To leave anything can be terrifying, even a move down the street.
Truth is a pathless land - Krishnamurti
I have been in Austin for just over three years and there have been moments of utter loneliness and fear. It has felt like flying blind, but something inside of me knows which way to turn as I learn to trust it. There are moments when I crack and send a sappy, victimized email to a friend, begging him or her to remind me that all is as it should be (we are not meant to do this alone my friends). There are days, fewer now, when stress outmaneuvers my gratitude for the beautiful life I am now living.
There is pain in leaving behind the person I thought I was. When the grieving begins it is unmooring, as beliefs begin to shed. They vanish like memories of a loved one who has passed, becoming dimmer over time, as you struggle to hold on: to the way his curly hair felt in your hand, to the sound of her laugh, to the color of her eyes.
The parts that don’t matter want to recede, to make space for what does matter and for what is to come. Still, we will hold on for a while. And that is the second wave of pain - after the pain of not listening to the call comes the pain of letting go. And it is worth it.
The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die - Nietzsche
I always want to write something telling you how I have figured it out. I want to write a course that will make you love yourself or a book that will teach you what steps to take to be fulfilled and healthy. But what I’m learning is that the course is life and we must go into our depths, into our fears and pains and shadows, with courage and faith. It will get messy in there.
What I can offer is perhaps more important: you are not alone in it, many of us are doing it. And if we listen, it never really ends, the adventure. I will do it with you.
I hope you come visit me in 40 years when I’m 90 years old. I will invite you in for tea or a glass of port or perhaps something stronger, who knows. I will share with you all I have learned. I will pull some books down and open them to the dog-eared pages that I have revisited thousands of times. I will explain the paintings on the walls and the meaning behind the wooden bowls my mother gave me a half century ago. My wrinkled heavy eyelids will make my eyes barely visible but still you’ll recognize an impish wisdom in the blue-rimmed hazel. You will think I have arrived and may feel solace knowing that in time, you too will arrive.
But just before you leave, as we are goodbying at the door, I will say, “Here’s something I’m struggling with. I just can’t figure this damn thing out," and your solace will dissipate in seconds. Ha!
I won’t ever arrive. I won’t ever have all of the answers. I hope to always be called and to always listen to the call, eventually, after the initial balking at the discomfort. As my lungs fill that very last time, I imagine I will still be pondering what’s to come.
Song to Accompany the Feeling: Here Comes the Sun